Knowing how their 7th grader Mia Farr, 13, is doing in school is important to Joshua and Latisha Whitley. Learning how they can support her during the ever-changing and challenging middle school years is extremely important to both.
“Being able to check on her, see how she’s doing is great,” said Latisha Whitley. “We used not to find out until it was too late.”
At a recent open house at the school, about 50 parents spent two hours listening to school administrators talk about the school, support programs available to parents and students, and how to continue to get involved in the school throughout the year. A translator was also at hand, providing instant communications to Spanish-speaking parents.
The idea, said Principal Jeffrey Johnson, is to keep parents involved during this critical age when children start making many decisions on their own.
“We love to see parents here at the middle school, not only at meetings but also during the school day and to all our events,” he told parents as he called them to invite others to the monthly family nights. “The more activity we can get with parents the better we’ll be, the better your children will be, and the more successes we will have.”
Kristi Kinzler, a meeting organizer, said the meetings last year became so successful that about 100 parents showed up by the end of the year. Every month, administrators discuss some of the issues going on at the school, help parents find solutions to their problems and access help they otherwise they wouldn’t know where to get.
For Jadira Vasquez, who recently relocated with her family from Mexico, the meeting was a chance to meet other parents, get to know the school system, and learn what is available for parents looking for help to support of their children.
“Our kids just started in this school, we come from Mexico and this is the first year they’re here,” Vasquez said. “For us, the responsibility of educating is not just of the school but also of the parents.”
Agreeing was Joshua Whitley, who is planning on checking out the parent portal he learned of during the meeting. “There was a lot of great information, we want to make sure she does her very best, that she keeps her attitude up, making sure she’s doing well,” he said.
Principal Johnson said providing parents and students support during middle school is essential to children’s success. Entering middle school is almost like entering kindergarten, he said, with students having to make new friends, build their own identity and deal with biological changes as they grow into young adults.
“This is a trying time for students, and it can be very frustrating for parents,” he added. “What we’re trying to do is to give parents ideas and tools to deal with their middle schoolers… and to make sure parents stay connected to the kids.”
In the past, bringing parents to school was like pulling teeth, he said. But administrators found the more meetings they offered, the more parents would show up. Now, they do monthly meetings for parents to learn about the school’s programs and representatives from Kent School Services Network help connect parents with services outside of the school.
The key, Johnson said, is to help parents understand what their children are going through, and how they might be able to help. “I do not have a parent that does not care about his or her child,” he said.